New research suggests that varicose veins may be an indicator for an increased risk of developing serious blood clots, suggesting that they are not merely a cosmetic issue, but symptoms of a more serious problem.
In a study published this week in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), researchers from Taiwan analyzed found that both men and women who had varicose veins were nearly five times more likely to experience a deep vein thrombosis. They were also at an increased risk for pulmonary embolism and peripheral artery disease.
Researchers analyzed data from nearly 426,000 adults using Taiwan’s National Health Insurance program. The data included patients ages 20 or older. Roughly 213,000 patients with varicose veins were matched with 213,000 patients without varicose veins between January 2001 to December 2013.
The study notes that the varicose vein group had 10,360 cases of deep vein thrombosis compared to 1,980 in the control group. Patients in the varicose vein group also had double the risk of developing a pulmonary embolism or peripheral artery disease.
Among people with varicose veins there were 793 cases of pulmonary embolism compared to 451 in the control group. There were 16,615 cases of peripheral artery disease in the varicose vein group compared to 9,709 among the control group.
Additionally, researchers noted both men and women had an increased risk, but the association was stronger in men.
Varicose veins are when the veins begin to take on a thick, gnarled appearance. Typically this is from pregnancy or from weakening and aging veins. Approximately 23% of adults have varicose veins in the U.S. In the past, doctors have not associated varicose veins with any serious health risk.
Deep vein thrombosis is a blood clot that forms in deep veins of the body. A pulmonary embolism is a blood clot in the arteries of the lungs and peripheral artery disease narrows the arteries leading to the legs, stomach, arms and head. Each of the conditions can be quite serious and deadly.
Researchers said they think the link between varicose veins and the other conditions may be because patients with varicose veins have increased inflammation. They speculate the inflammatory process may lead to abnormal clotting.
The study data was unclear whether varicose veins directly causes blood clots or if the two conditions have similar origins. Researchers also could not factor out other risk factors like smoking, which can also lead to blood clots.